Britain has the highest rate of coronavirus cases and deaths in western Europe.
Whereas France, Germany, Spain and Italy have managed to suppress the wave caused by the spread of the Delta variant, nearly 40,000 new cases were reported in the UK on Tuesday.
According to the latest data, there are 1.7 daily Covid-19 deaths per million people in the UK – more than twice the rate in France and Germany, and five times that of the Netherlands.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said the effectiveness of vaccines meant that the country could maintain normality – but warned the UK remained in a “balancing act”.
‘Public health failure’
A damning report from MPs, released on Tuesday, criticised the government and its scientific advisers for serious errors and delays which, they said, cost lives during the pandemic.
The study, from the cross-party Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee, said the UK’s preparation for a pandemic was far too focused on flu, while ministers waited too long to push through lockdown measures in early 2020.
In a wide-ranging report, MPs said the UK’s pandemic planning was too “narrowly and inflexibly based on a flu model” that failed to learn the lessons from Sars, Mers and Ebola.
Former chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies told MPs there was “groupthink”, with infectious disease experts not believing that “Sars, or another Sars, would get from Asia to us”.
Once Covid-19 emerged in China, MPs said the UK policy was to take a “gradual and incremental approach” to interventions such as social distancing, isolation and lockdowns.
In their study, they said this was “a deliberate policy” proposed by scientists and adopted by UK governments, which has now been shown to be “wrong” and led to a higher death toll.
The MPs said the “decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic – and the advice that led to them – rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”.
Simon Clarke, professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said Britain was pursuing a different policy to its continental neighbours.
He told The Times: “The UK has firmly committed itself to ‘running hot’ when managing its Covid spread. Mitigations which might have had an effect have been firmly rejected and people are largely behaving as though the pandemic is entirely behind us.
“Wider rollout of vaccines to younger age groups and booster jabs to those at high risk might have limited further spread, but these programmes seem to have stalled, so it’s unsurprising to me that infection numbers are so high.”
Professor Clarke added: “Previously people only really paid attention to the situation when faced with scenes of large numbers of people clogging up hospital, struggling to breathe.
“While I don’t expect a wave of hospital admissions anything like the previous ones, it’s clear that with infection numbers currently so high, we could face a situation where hospitals are put under unnecessary strain.
“If that were combined with high numbers of flu cases, it could cause the NHS to buckle under the strain.”